Case of Legionnaires’ disease, potentially fatal type of pneumonia, confirmed on Oahu

Local News

Queen’s Medical Center and the Department of Health confirmed a recent case of Legionnaires’ disease here on Oahu. The disease is a potentially fatal type of pneumonia.

The patient is being treated at Queen’s Medical Center. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Leslie Chu said they are investigating potential sources of the disease. 

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by a bacteria called Legionella. 

It got its name in 1976 when an outbreak of pneumonia struck a group of people attending the American Legion Convention in Philadelphia.

Those infected have severe flu-like symptoms including muscle aches, fever, cough or loss of appetite.

But how do you get it? 

Dr. James Ireland, assistant clinical professor of medicine at JABSOM, said it isn’t passed from one person to another.

It’s transmitted through contaminated soil at digging sites but most often through contaminated water sources.

“But not water that you drink, but water that is aerosolized  and you inhale,” explained Dr. Ireland.

Shower heads, sink faucets, cooling towers, hot water tanks, heaters and hot tubs are sources that could potentially be contaminated.

It can be transmitted by breathing in mist through a water reservoir contaminated with the Legionella bacteria.

“Once someone who has the infection is in a hospital or some other environment it would unusual for them to transmit the disease,” Dr. Ireland said.

The disease often presents in clusters and that’s why finding the source is very important.

The number of cases diagnosed in Hawaii has increased in the last two years according to Department of Health records.

2017: 14 cases
2016:  12 cases
2015:  7 cases
2014:  9 cases
2013:  9 cases

Ireland said there are some people who are more at risk than others.

“People who use tobacco, cigarettes, people who have lung disease such as COPD or emphysema or people who have a lowered immune system,” Dr. Ireland said.

Legionnaires’ disease can be treated with antibiotics but it’s difficult to prevent.

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